Tomorrow night (August 27) we’ll be having a workshop on the significance of cleaning in everyday life and at the Indigenous Hospitality House. Cleaning is a way of showing love to our places and making space for the stranger.
You can join us for dinner at 7:00pm. The workshop will go from 7:30pm until 9:00pm.
RSVP: house@ihh.org.au / (03) 9687 7557

‘Cleaning is the process of removing dirt from any space, surface, object, or subject, thereby exposing beauty, potential, truth, and sacredness.’
– Tolulope Ilesanmi

Fishing for Trouble

This morning I led a reflection at Credo Café as part of Credo Gathering. A couple of weeks back the group had started reflecting on what Jesus means when he calls some fishers to follow him, saying he’ll teach them to fish for people. I was interested in taking some time to look at some of the background to this story from the Hebrew scripture.

I started off by asking the group to imagine what it might be like if we were invaded by a foreign country, and everyone in Melbourne who had a university education was taken away into exile. People said that it might be better, because we would the people who had previously been in subservient roles (but have all the practical knowledge) would be in charge. But people also noted that we wouldn’t have any doctors or nurses, and we would still have police.

I explained that this was what happened in Israel about 700 years before Jesus’ time. Israel was invaded by the Assyrians, and of their leaders were taken away into exile. Some of the prophets said that this was happening because Israel’s leaders had mistreated the poor and the workers, and so God was sending the Assyrians to catch them like fishers and lead them away with fishing hooks. Israel’s elites actually were lead into captivity with hooks and chains through their mouths.

I asked the group what the fishers might have thought Jesus meant when he invited them to come and fish for people.

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We came to the conclusion that they might have thought that he was inviting them to punish their oppressors – the Romans and their Jewish collaborators. This might be why they expected Jesus to lead violent revolution. At any rate, they would have understood that he was inviting them to challenge the way their society worked. We talked about what this looks like in our own society – people start protest movements and political parties in order to try and change society.

We talked about how the work we do in Credo Café might be part of an effort to challenge the way our society operates. We noted that the practise of offering everyone a free meals different to the way that our society normally operates. We also noted that the practise of bringing together people who wouldn’t normally share a meal (eg. people from the street culture, business people and church people) is also a challenge to the subtle forms of segregation that exist in our society.

(The gospel story we were talking about was from Matthew 4:18-22. The prophetic texts mentioned are Amos 4, Jeremiah 16 and Ezekiel 29. Have been having a go at not reading directly out of the Bible, and seeing if it makes it easier for people with lower literacy to engage in the discussion.)

Is the Street Safe for Art?

A few days back I did some posts about some artwork that had been put up recently in our street. Last night while I was walking home I noticed that a number of them had been pull down, bent or broken. I don’t know whether this was done by someone who was unhappy about them being put up or whether they just wanted to destroy something. I felt sad about it because someone had obviously put work into making and installing them, and because I felt they added something to the neighbourhood. Later on I remembered that this is part of the nature of public art, and particularly street art. In Hosier Lane artworks are constantly being painted over. So you know that what you are putting out there is at risk of being vandalised, and that at some stage it will be painted over by someone else’s artwork.

In a sense I guess that is true of all kinds of media, including the most mundane of posts on social media. We don’t know how others will respond to what we put out there, how it will be remixed, rebooted, screenshotted, taken out of context, filled with new meaning or misread. Once we put it out into the public it is no longer under our control.

Lamentations as a Parable of Dislocation

On Thursday night at Indigenous Hospitality House eight of us got together to read from the Book of Lamentations, alongside ‘We Are Going’ by Oodgeroo Noonuccal. We found that there are similar experiences of displacement expressed in Lamentations and in ‘We Are Going’. Displacement is such a common human experience – especially in this land. However, many Colonist people seem to have trouble relating to the First Peoples’ experiences of dislocation within their own lands. One of the things we were wondering about was whether the experience described in the Book of Lamentations could function as a parable for people of faith who have trouble relating the the experiences of First Peoples? Could this be a story with which we could lead Colonist people to the experiences of First Peoples?

We will be continuing our discussion on Thursday night (August 20). If you’d like to join us, we will be having dinner at 7:00pm and kicking of the discussion at 7:30pm.

Does Life Online Make Us More Sensitive?

I have been thinking a bit about online communication, partly in response to reading a section of Peter Horsfield’s From Jesus to the Internet. My thinking has also been prompted by this article about how the use of trigger warnings on campus may be impacting the mental health of students. That article is specifically about communication in academic settings, but I think there are a lot of connections with online communication – Facebook has been the main place I have come across trigger warnings, and it is also the place where I have found them problematic.

What I have been wondering about is whether online communication (or the way we use it) is making us more sensitive, and whether that is a problem. Potentially this is just my own experience, and not anyone else’s experience. But I would like to share this experience in case it does resonate with some others.

One of the differences with online communication is that we can communicate instantly without interrupting. I can remember when I was a teenager, living with my parents, being fairly nervous about using the phone. I would be interrupting whoever I was calling to talk to, so what if they didn’t want to talk to me? Since I was going to be interrupting someone, it was important to know exactly what I needed to talk to them about – I didn’t want to be interrupting them and then also wasting their time. Leaving home I entered a world of academia and employment where I could do most of my communication via email. The difference with email was that the person I was writing to would receive my message very quickly (unlike sending a letter via post), but they wouldn’t be under pressure to answer right when they received it (unlike answering a phone call). The difference is that with this form of communication we don’t need to learn to become confident in direct communication. In fact, it’s not unusual to even use email to communicate with people who are in the same room, so as not to interrupt!

Another difference with online communication is that we can easily surround ourselves with people who are coming from similar experiences to us and who hold similar views. Another thing I can remember from my teenage years is riding in my cousin’s car and asking him what it was like being at university. (I would have still had another year of secondary college to go.) He said the best thing about university was that you could make a whole lot of friends who were into the same things you were into. I think the Internet is like that too. On social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter we can curate our newsfeed so that we are only presented with the views and experiences of people who are like us. If we disagree with someone we can remove them from the list or hide their posts. But I wonder what that does to our resilience? I think the option of doing this means that I don’t learn to get along with people who are different to me.

On top of that, I wonder about whether the distant nature of online communication means that we react as though we have been physically threatened when people disagree with us? Some of us now spend more time communicating online that we do in person – perhaps mostly with people who share similar views and experiences. It would be fair to say that a large section of people in my Facebook newsfeed are Christian and/or politically left wing. My Twitter newsfeed is a bit more diverse, but I don’t spend so much time on there. When I do come across a differing view – especially if it is expressed directly in response to something I’ve said – it can feel as though I have been physically threatened or attacked by someone, even though it is only words, and they haven’t even been said directly to me. I am wondering whether we are so protected by the distance of online communication that we now experience online disagreements as we might have once experienced an altercation in the street? I am wondering whether this experience resonates with others?

Wonderful Rubbish

Over the weekend I wrote some posts about the new street art that has appeared in our neighbourhood. I have been wondering about whether these artworks can help to remind us that our neighbourhood is a place for people, and whether they can help us to open up our hearts to the place and treat it with love. The artworks, attached to the power poles, are depictions of people made out of cans, bottle tops, lids and pieces of timber.

Another thing I have been wondering about is whether they can change the way that we thing about waste. All of the artworks are made of out scraps of material that we might just throw away as rubbish – even though some of the materials are recyclable. Instead of throwing the materials away, the artist has used them to re-echanchant the neighbourhood. The artist has used these scraps to treat the place as special.

This has also led me to think about the ways that we treat actual people as rubbish. This artwork might lead us to think that no person is a waste, and that all kinds of people can help to enrich a neighbourhood.

Neighbourhoods Need to Be Loved

Yesterday I wrote a bit about the new street art that has gone up in our neighbourhood, and how it could remind us that our neighbourhood is a place for people.

I have also been thinking about how they could also help to personify the neighbourhood. Because it is a quiet street it can feel a bit impersonal. I wonder whether seeing these faces as we go up and down the street could help to open our hearts up to the place? I wonder whether it could change the way we treat the neighbourhood?

G.K. Chesterton thought that places became beautiful because people treated them with love:

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing – say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne of the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico; in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico; for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico; to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles… If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

Neighbourhoods are for People

We noticed today that there is some new street art outside our house. It seems to be a little figure made from a piece of wood veneer, a coaster and some Carlton Draught bottle caps.

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There are other similar figures on power poles going down the street and around the corner.

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What does it mean having a little person out in the street, staring at you each time you go outside the house? Often it is difficult to get any eye contact from people out in the street. Our street is pretty quiet, and when you do pass someone on the footpath it can feel a bit impersonal. I think these artworks could be a reminder for us that this is a place for people.

Tonight at the Indigenous Hospitality House (1/907 Drummond Street, Carlton North) we’ll be kicking off a series of Bible studies looking at experiences of displacement in the book of Lamentations and in our own national story. If you’d like to join us, we’ll be having dinner together at 7:00pm, and plan to start the study at 7:30pm.

A Walk Could Be a Holiday

I was walking down to Carlton for a book launch a few days ago. I realised I hadn’t checked my emails all day, and thought I might as well do that as I walked. But then I remembered that I don’t need to feel like I am being busy and productive at all times. So I decided to just pay attention as I was walking, and I got to take in some great clouds and sunset.